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Velazquez v. Gator Park, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 22, 2018

JOSE VELAZQUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
GATOR PARK, INC., Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON MOTION TO DISMISS OR TRANSFER VENUE [DKT. 18]

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). See [Dkt. 18]. Plaintiff Jose Velazquez (“Plaintiff” or “Velazquez”) filed this negligence action in state court and Defendant Gator Park, Inc. (“Defendant” or “Gator Park”) removed this case based on valid diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1441. This action is based on Plaintiff's alleged injuries sustained when he fell off an airboat in the Florida everglades while taking one of Defendant's guided airboat tours. For the foregoing, this motion to dismiss is GRANTED and this case is transferred to the Southern District of Florida.

         I. Facts

         The following facts are taken from the complaint unless otherwise stated and are assumed but not found to be true for purposes of this decision. Gator Park is a Florida tour guide company that operates airboat tours in the Florida everglades. [Dkt. 1¶¶ 2, 4]. On or about May 2015, Mr. Velazquez took a group airboat tour. Id. ¶ 4. The airboat crashed into an embankment, Mr. Velazquez was ejected into the water where alligators were known to be present, and he suffered injuries. Id. ¶ 6. Mr. Velazquez alleges the airboat was driven at a high speed. Id. ¶ 7. It is also alleged Defendant either failed to provide seatbelts or they were not properly inspected before operating the airboat. Id.

         Gator Park operates a website where it sells tickets, and a person in Connecticut who wants to take an airboat tour can buy the ticket on the website. Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff does not indicate whether he purchased a ticket on the online portal.

         II. Legal Standard

         To successfully defeat a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the Court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Robertson-Ceco Corp., 84 F.3d 560, 566 (2d Cir. 1996). “At this stage of the proceedings, the plaintiffs must make out only a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction through their own affidavits and supporting materials and all affidavits and pleadings must be construed in the plaintiffs' favor.” Edberg v. Neogen Corp., 17 F.Supp.2d 104, 110 (D. Conn. 1998) (citing CutCo Industries, Inc. v. Naughton, 806 F.2d 361, 365 (2d Cir. 1986)).

         “[T]he amenability of a foreign corporation to suit in a federal court in a diversity action is determined in accordance with the law of the state where the court sits . . . .” Arrowsmith v. United Press Int'l, 320 F.2d 219, 223 (2d Cir. 1963) (en banc); accord Hoffritz for Cutlery, Inc. v. Amajac, Ltd., 763 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir.1985). Accordingly, this court applies the law of the State of Connecticut. In order to ascertain whether a court has personal jurisdiction, Connecticut applies a two-step analysis. A court must first look to the forum State's long-arm statute and determine whether that statute reaches the foreign corporation. If the long-arm statute authorizes personal jurisdiction over a defendant, the court must then decide whether the exercise of jurisdiction over that party offends due process. Bensmiller v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 47 F.3d 79, 81 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Greene v. Sha-Na-Na, 637 F.Supp. 591, 59 (D. Conn. 1986)).

         III. Analysis

         The facts relevant to personal jurisdiction are largely undisputed, and it is therefore helpful to discuss them in brief at the outset. It is undisputed that Gator Park's website enabled users to purchase tickets online in advance of the tour. See [Dkt. 1 ¶ 5 (alleging defendant sells tickets through an online portal, which is available to Connecticut residents); Dkt. 18 (Reply) at 4 (“The defendant concedes that it is possible to purchase advance tickets, for rides in the Miami area, online.”)]. Plaintiff does not, however, allege he purchased the ticket online. See [Dkt. 16-1 at 5-6]. It also is undisputed Plaintiff sustained injuries in Florida. See [Dkt. 1 ¶ 6; Dkt. 16-1 at 4]. The parties dispute whether these facts are sufficient to give rise to personal jurisdiction in Connecticut.

         The Court must first determine whether Connecticut's long-arm statute reaches Gator Park. A foreign corporation is subject to personal jurisdiction in Connecticut pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 33-929(f). Plaintiff claims personal jurisdiction is valid under subsection (f)(2), which makes a foreign corporation subject to suit in Connecticut for any action arising “out of any business solicited in this state by mail or otherwise if the corporation has repeatedly so solicited business, whether the orders or offers relating thereto were accepted within or without the state. . . .” Conn. Gen. Stat. 33-929(f)(2).[1]

         Connecticut law has two methods for establishing personal jurisdiction: specific jurisdiction and general jurisdiction. Specific jurisdiction is valid “whenever the defendant has purposefully directed [its] activities at residents of the forum and the litigation [has] result[ed] from alleged injuries that arise out of or relate to those activities.” Thomason v. Chemical Bank, 234 Conn. 281, 288 (1995) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see Am. Wholesalers Underwriting, Ltd. v. Am. Wholesale Ins. Grp., Inc., 312 F.Supp.2d 247, 254 (D. Conn. 2004) (stating Connecticut law defines specific jurisdiction as “generally speaking, [where] the defendant purposefully directs certain enumerated activities at the forum state, and those activities actually caused the harm complained of”). Specific jurisdiction is inapplicable here because Plaintiff was not injured in Connecticut and does not allege he took Gator Park's tour in response to a solicitation he received in Connecticut.

         General jurisdiction, in contrast, does not require a causal connection between the solicitation and the injury. See Thomason, 234 Conn. at 296 (addressing § 33-929(f)'s predecessor statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 33-411(c)); Centennial Helicopters, Inc. v. Sterling Corp., No. CV0504002666, 2005 WL 3508575, at *3 (Conn. Super. Ct. Nov. 22, 2005) (identifying § 33-411(c) as the predecessor statute to § 33-929(f)). Rather, in Connecticut it requires “proof that a particular plaintiff's cause of action is similar to a cause of action that could have been brought here by a person whose business the defendant did solicit.” Thomason, 234 Conn. at 297; Am. Wholesalers, 312 F.Supp.2d at 256 (recognizing that Connecticut law requires only that plaintiff demonstrate the defendant “could reasonably have anticipated being hauled into court” by a person solicited in Connecticut and that the cause of action is not materially different from a possible action resulting from the solicitation) (quoting Thomason, 234 Conn. at 296); F&F Screw Products, Inc. v. Clark Screw Machine Prods. Co., No. CV000500360S, 2002 WL 31894843, at *3 (Conn. Super. Ct. Dec. 10, 2002).

         In order to satisfy general jurisdiction, the defendant must have specifically targeted Connecticut residents. See Thomason, 234 Conn. at 298 (finding personal jurisdiction established where “[t]he advertisements specifically encouraged Connecticut residents to place a wide variety of banking business with the trustee bank”); Am. Wholesalers, 312 F.Supp.2d at 257 (“Without deliberate targeting, or at least a more substantial subscription base in Connecticut, there can be no purposeful availment of the laws of the State of Connecticut, and therefore long-arm jurisdiction cannot be proper.”); West World Media, LLC v. Ikamobile Ltd., 809 F.Supp.2d 26, 30 (D. Conn. 2011) (acknowledging Connecticut's “broad interpretation of ...


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